The Watson Slough is a large natural wetland habitat adjacent to Highway 29 at Bear Flat between Fort St John and Hudson’s Hope. This slough attracts people from around the world as it is a refuge for endangered birds such as the Yellow Rail, Horned Grebe and other hard to find species.
Part of it is crown land, and part is deeded land owned by BC Hydro which some years ago they turned over to Ducks Unlimited to manage as a wetland with a 99 year lease. However, with the Site C dam project moving forward, the entire wetland is slated to be lost under approximately 20 to 30 feet of water when the valley is flooded.
BC Hydro had planned to clear the entire Watson Slough area in the winter of 2017 despite the area not needed for new road building, and reservoir flooding was not scheduled to start until 2023. Locals, supported by the Peace River Regional District, protested such action and convinced BC Hydro to put off the destruction of this valuable ecosystem until the winter before the flooding of the valley. In fact, BC Hydro put an ad in the Alaska Highway News stating “Watson Slough: We're listening” where they went on to explain how “Our revised plan will retain the wetland and its use by wildlife for a longer period of time.”
So while the death of the wetland was postponed, there does appear to be a goal of discouraging people from visiting and enjoying the popular spot. In the past, Ducks Unlimited maintained trails and interpretive signs in the area, and for many years, local school kids were given hands-on education here under a great program called Project Webfoot. It is noteworthy that while Ducks Unlimited was paid $275,000 by BC Hydro for consulting support in regards to mitigation of the wetland losses for Site C, all such activities and maintenance of infrastructure at Watson Slough appears to have come to an end once Site C was approved. We believe this is all part of a general move by BC Hydro to “dehumanize” the valley. It is much easier to destroy a valley if you remove human habitation, recreation and the resulting attachment beforehand.
The recent removal of the big Watson Slough information sign immediately adjacent to the wetland parking lot seems to be the latest action towards the diminishing of the wetland area. Fortunately, a class of students from Emily Carr University of Art and Design came through the valley this past week and offered to help by making a new sign for the Watson Slough. Using rudimentary supplies in a very tight time frame, they crafted the beautiful new sign that is now where the old one once was.
We encourage people to come out and continue to enjoy the incredible biodiversity of this valuable wetland. There is a trail going east from the parking lot that ends at a bench, and another short trail that goes north to a pond area with a dock. The biodiversity of this area is simply incredible with many rare and listed plants and birds. Bring a pair of binoculars and a bird book! If BC Hydro and Ducks Unlimited refuse to maintain the trails, we will.